1. Does media literacy protect kids?

Choose yes if you agree with Neil Postman, who is clear about the possibility that media literacy can help transform a deeply flawed culture. He notes that media literacy is just about the only antidote for a culture where we continue to amuse ourselves to death, where information has replaced knowledge, where style has replaced substance, where violence is the major form of entertainment, where human relationships are trivialized and commodified, and where we let technology drive the quality of our lives without reflection or analysis.

Choose no if you agree with David Buckingham, who wonders about why we have to see children as victims who need to be rescued from the excesses and evils of their culture, which is simply the intersection of high technology, mass media and consumer capitalism at the end of the 20th century. He suggests that by focusing on the 'problematic' features of the mass media, we neglect children's emotional engagement with the media and the genuine pleasures they receive, instead substituting cynicism and superiority instead of promoting real questioning and analysis. Maybe children and young people don't need to be protected at all, just invited to participate in the community's discourse about media.

2. Does media literacy require student media production activities?

Choose yes if you think that young people cannot become truly critical viewers until they have had experience making photographs, planning and organizing ideas through storyboards, writing scripts and performing in front of a camera, cropping an image, designing their own web page, or reporting a news story. According to this view, media literacy is incomplete unless students get a lot of experience 'writing' as well as 'reading.'

Choose no if you've ever wondered what students are actually learning when they make their own videos, if you are concerned that media production is impossible in the underfunded schools that are typical of education, if you've found that media production activities require too much time for 45 minute periods, more grownups than the 30 to 1 ratio of classrooms, or more skills than can be reasonably expected from an overworked, underpaid, middle-aged teacher. In American schools, media production is often the province of the non-readers, the low-ability kids for whom media production is the 'last chance' before dropping out. Choose no if you doubt that media production can ever recover from its 20-year reputation as an educational dumping ground.

3. Should media literacy have a popular culture bias?

Choose no if you recognize that the concepts and skills embedded in media literacy are about the analysis of all the ways humans share meaning. Understanding that information is socially constructed is the major contribution of media literacy-- and this can be learned through the analysis of classic works of literature and film just as well or better than through a close examination of MTV.

Choose yes if you believe that media literacy must be centrally connected to the popular cultural texts that are at the center of students' 'first curriculum.' Choose yes if you think media literacy is part of the move against the belief that the canon of Great Western Works are inherently more meaningful and speak more powerfully to the human condition than The Simpsons or Star Trek. Choose yes if you think media literacy should be centrally concerned with contemporary media texts... the ones which are students watching now.

4. Should media literacy have a stronger ideological agenda?

Choose yes if you are disturbed by the wimpy, simplistic rhetoric of media literacy, which seems to be designed to have something-for-everyone, with no apparent ideological agenda concerning education reform, broadcast regulation, commercialism in the classroom, media ownership and centralization, racism, sexism, and other social injustices. Choose yes if you recognize that media literacy must be seen as a tool for educational, social or political change.

Choose no if you believe that media literacy is a tool that can be used to serve a wide variety of ideological positions, from folks in the Bible belt trying to help students understand how inhumanity and violence masquerades as humor to progressive educators in Boston helping students understand that the insanity of advertising makes people feel inade uate in order to sell them products they don't need. Choose no if you think that an overt ideological agenda-- apart from teaching kids to question authority and use reasoning to come to independent autonomous decisions-- is unlikely to be accepted in the context of mainstream public education, so that media literacy is most likely to enter the schools under the de-politicized rubric of 'literacy.'

5. Can media literacy ever reach large numbers of students in schools?

Choose no if you do not at this moment have a close relationship with a current, practicing schoolteacher in the elementary or secondary grades. Choose no if you recognize that schools, as institutions designed to conserve and maintain the social status quo, are unlikely to change within the next twenty years in the fairly dramatic ways that media literacy would require. For example, instead of reading eight classic novels, students would read four books, study two films, a newsmagazine and a web site-is this something likely to happen? Choose no if you think the best, most realistic site for kids to develop media literacy skills is in after-school programs, summer camps, religious education programs, library and prevention programs, in community-based organizations, and at home with parental guidance.

Choose yes if you can believe that educators in the primary grades and those teaching language arts, social studies, health, science, music and art can be introduced to strategies for integrating media literacy across the curriculum. Choose yes if you believe this even though schools are chronically underfunded, have poor integration of technology in general, have increasingly smaller staff development budgets, where teachers are cynical about adding yet another new thing, and school administrators see little about media literacy that's directly related to the broad goals of education. Choose yes if you feel comfortable recognizing that implementing media literacy will realistically mean that less time is spent on other subjects, including literature, physical education, foreign languages, calculus, and geography-- choose yes if you believe that time spent learning about media will enrich these subjects instead of diminish them.

6. Should media literacy initiatives be supported financially by media organizations?

Choose no if you believe that all funds come with strings attached, and that the media are cleverly taking advantage of educators who are so underfunded and desperate for materials that they'll jump at anything that's provided for free-- even when it's full of glossy hype, institutional promotion and bias. Choose no if you believe that media organizations are effectively taking the 'anti-media' stand out of the media literacy movement to serve their own goals. Choose no if you recognize that the media industry is coopting the media literacy movement, softening it to make sure that public criticism of the media never gets too loud, abrasive or strident.

Choose yes if you are delighted that the cable television industry and the newspaper industry have used their large megaphones to help raise public awareness about the value of media literacy skills. Choose yes if you think media organizations have a social responsibility to help people develop critical thinking about the media as a kind of consumer skills. Choose yes if you believe that the good that media organizations can do by contributing their dollars outweighs the dangers that they may use media literacy as part of their public relations campaign, as a shield against government regulation, or as a means to subvert or neutralize the public's increasingly negative attitudes towards the mass media.

7. Is media literacy best understood as simply a means to an end?

Choose yes if you believe that media literacy is most valuable because of its potential to change the worst aspects of media culture, to improve the quality of television, to revitalize journalism, to change the nature of public education, to get people to re-think their relationship with commodity culture. Choose yes if you're doing media literacy as a strategy to end violence, to stop sexism or racism, to prevent kids from ruining their futures with drug or alcohol abuse.

Choose no if you think that media literacy might be a valuable skill in and of itself, that simply learning to make media messages and to always ask questions about what you watch, see and read is inherently valuable. Choose no if you believe that media literacy would still be worth teaching and learning even if it had no impact on changing the quality of public education or the quality of mass media, if it didn't improve people's lifestyle decision-making, if it had no impact on how young people see themselves in gendered, racially constructed social roles.

partly adapted from Renee Hobbs: The Seven Great Debates in the Media Literacy Movement


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